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UPDATE: TN High School Community Members Share Why They Won’t Stop Praying After Football Games

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L: Students lead prayer after a game between Upperman High School and Watertown High School on Sept 24. R: Students lead prayer after game between Upperman High School and Stone Memorial High School on Sept. 17

UPDATED Sept. 27, 2021: One of the high school football players from Tennessee’s Putnam County School (PCS) system joined other members of his school community in sharing why they are determined to pray after football games despite a decision from PCS to ban school staff from leading students in prayer.

“I am surprised,” said Elijah Burgess, an offensive lineman for Upperman High School in Baxter, Tenn. In an appearance on Fox & Friends on Sept. 23, Burgess said that he would not have anticipated such a decision from a school district in Tennessee, which a fairly conservative area of the U.S. “I mean, growing up, that was one of the things I never thought would happen, that I would be told not to pray,” he said.

The school district has not actually told students that they cannot pray, but rather that school staff, including coaches, cannot lead the students in prayer. Nevertheless, Burgess framed the district’s decision as an attempt to prevent students from exercising their religious rights. “They told us to not pray, so I had to do that,” he said. “That’s like one of the things that I’ve got to do if someone tells me not to.” Cheerleader Jenna Wilkens agreed, and said “the whole community” is going to continue praying after games no matter what the district says. 

And the community has continued to do just that. PCS alum Bob Vick, who posted a widely shared picture of the players praying following Upperman’s game against Stone Memorial High School on Sept. 17, also posted a picture of the Upperman students praying after a game with Watertown High School on the evening of Friday, Sept. 24. One woman commented on the latter image, saying the students have “restored my faith in the coming generation of leaders.”

Christa Mullins, a mother of one of the Upperman High School football players, said that while she appreciated the fact the students were free to pray, she wishes that coaches and other school staff were free to lead the students in prayer. 

“I’m a single mom,” said Mullins, “and my son looks up to his coaches not only as coaches, but mentors and even friends. And so if he is having a bad day or needs some prayer, I think it’s important for the youth to be able to go up to a teacher or coach – these are lifelong relationships – and ask, ‘Hey, can you pray with me?’ So to be told that they can’t do that is where I’m frustrated.”

ChurchLeaders original article written on Sept. 21, 2021, below:

High school football players in Tennessee’s Putnam County School (PCS) System led parents and fans in a postgame prayer Friday night after coaches and staff were told that they were legally not allowed to do so themselves.  

“Satan’s power was defeated tonight, as the threat of a legal action to forbid prayer after the game was overwhelmed by player lead [sic] prayer supported by parents and fans in solidarity on Overall Field,” said PCS alum Bob Vick in a Facebook post. “God bless the Baxter and Stone players for their faith and courage.” 

High School Football Players Lead Others in Prayer

On Friday, Sept. 17, Upperman High School in Baxter, Tenn., played Stone Memorial High School, in Crossville, Tenn., defeating the latter 27-9

Prior to Friday’s game, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) had written to PCS, informing the school district that AU had learned of several cases of prayer and proselytizing at different schools in the area. PCS consulted its school board attorney and responded by making sure staff, including coaches, knew that they could not lead students in prayer.